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Proceedings Paper

Activity in the fusiform face area supports expert perception in radiologists and does not depend upon holistic processing of images
Author(s): Stephen A. Engel; Erin M. Harley; Whitney B. Pope; J. Pablo Villablanca; John C. Mazziotta; Dieter Enzmann
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Paper Abstract

Training in radiology dramatically changes observers' ability to process images, but the neural bases of this visual expertise remain unexplored. Prior imaging work has suggested that the fusiform face area (FFA), normally selectively responsive to faces, becomes responsive to images in observers' area of expertise. The FFA has been hypothesized to be important for "holistic" processing that integrates information across the entire image. Here, we report a cross-sectional study of radiologists that used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure neural activity in first-year radiology residents, fourth-year radiology residents, and practicing radiologists as they detected abnormalities in chest radiographs. Across subjects, activity in the FFA correlated with visual expertise, measured as behavioral performance during scanning. To test whether processing in the FFA was holistic, we measured its responses both to intact radiographs and radiographs that had been divided into 25 square pieces whose locations were scrambled. Activity in the FFA was equal in magnitude for intact and scrambled images, and responses to both kinds of stimuli correlated reliably with expertise. These results suggest that the FFA is one of the cortical regions that provides the basis of expertise in radiology, but that its contribution is not holistic processing of images.

Paper Details

Date Published: 13 March 2009
PDF: 8 pages
Proc. SPIE 7263, Medical Imaging 2009: Image Perception, Observer Performance, and Technology Assessment, 72630M (13 March 2009); doi: 10.1117/12.812250
Show Author Affiliations
Stephen A. Engel, Univ. of Minnesota (United States)
Erin M. Harley, Exponent, Inc. (United States)
Whitney B. Pope, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (United States)
J. Pablo Villablanca, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (United States)
John C. Mazziotta, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (United States)
Dieter Enzmann, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7263:
Medical Imaging 2009: Image Perception, Observer Performance, and Technology Assessment
Berkman Sahiner; David J. Manning, Editor(s)

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